Up against World Rally Championship teams, Katto in a Celica ST185 turned in a mindboggling performance to finish seventh in the toughest race on the calendar at the time.
The Ugandan ace had just won the national championship in the previous season and his upbeat fans travelled to Kenya in big numbers.
There was a lot of excitement among hundreds of Ugandan fans who eagerly awaited watching Katto face off with an array of world championship drivers like Carlos Sainz, Didier Oriol, Tommi Makinen, Juha Kankkune and Richard Burns (RIP) among others. Katto took time off to chat with and grant photo opportunities to his fans at Kenya International Conference Centre, shortly before he was flagged off 14th behind Kenyan Jonathan Toroitich (President Moi’s son).
The World Championship Teams like Toyota, Mitsubishi, Subaru and Ford were farther ahead of the pack.
Toroitich kicked up dust that slowed down Katto in the opening stage prompting the Ugandan to unleash a heavy foot in the 50-km next stage to overtake him.
The event had so many competitors that crews at the tail-end returned to the finish point at 3:00am.
Despite the punctures in the sweltering heat and rocky surface in Masailand, Katto hang in there to finish 7th overall.
Karim Hirji and co-driver Frank Nekusa, the other Ugandan crew in the race finished 14th.
Considering his stellar performance in the Safari Rally and having retained the national championship Katto, voted Sportsman of the year by the Uganda Sports Press Association (USPA).
20 years later, Katto looks at one of his most fascinating races ever.
“I remember the 1997 Safari Rally with a lot of pride and satisfaction as it was one of my greatest rallying achievements. To finish seventh in such a grueling event driving against the top ten drivers in the world was extremely satisfying. I recall overtaking Toroitich and his navigator coming to ask me at the next service if I was crazy to drive at such pace! This is the Safari he said and if you drive that fast you will never finish! I just told him that they were driving too slowly and we had been stuck in their dust for over 20kms! Two incidents that were never reported stuck in my mind, the first one was that we were stuck in deep sand in Naivasha for over 45 minutes and literally had to lift the car out of the sand with the help of some good Samaritans. Without the loss of that time we would definitely have finished in the top five. The other incident almost caused my navigator to beat me up! We were two kilometres from the flying finish on the very last section of the Safari Rally and our fans were all over the road screaming and shouting with joy, I got so excited that I lost concentration and went off the road as I wasn’t listening to my navigator and missed two huge rocks by milimetres. If we had hit any one of those rocks it would have been the end of our rally!! You can imagine my relief when we crossed the finish line. I had a smile on my face for one week after the event!